Tim Farron’s resignation: why I’m sad but also relieved

by Stephen Tall on June 15, 2017

I’m on holiday so have only just seen the news of Tim Farron’s resignation as Lib Dem leader. I’m saddened, but also, truth be told, a bit relieved.

Saddened because I voted for Tim and am pleased to have done so. His energy and enthusiasm is infectious – his instinctive, passionate speech the morning after the 23 June EU referendum captured the sadness and anger many of us felt that day (and contrasted with Jeremy Corbyn’s hopeless insistence that Article 50 should be immediately triggered). It inspired thousands to join the Lib Dems. We were, to be blunt, very lucky to have Tim in place, rather than Norman Lamb, whose Leave-voting constituency left him in a conflicted position (he abstained on the Article 50 vote).

But also relieved. It’s a harsh reality that as the leader of a minor party you get limited chances to make a good impression on the voters. Tim’s fumbling attempts to avoid answering whether he thinks gay sex is a sin holed his leadership below the waterline. It was deeply unfair – he’s a social liberal to his fingertips on issues of personal morality with a voting record to match – but that’s beside the point. If you market yourself as a great communicator you can’t complain later that you’ve been misunderstood. (And Tim has often enough put his faith centre stage that he also can’t complain it became an issue of curiosity to a secular media looking to tease out any conflicts with his liberalism.) Despite the baby-steps progress made by the Lib Dems in last week’s election – made in large part thanks to the strategy Tim put in place – he emerged from the election with his leadership diminished.

In the old days, when the Lib Dems were the undisputed third party, he’d have got another chance to prove his mettle. But the electoral landscape is much more competitive these days and much less forgiving of slip-ups. Ultimately, I think he’s made the right decision for himself and for the party.